Arts & Entertainment

Ligia Montoya: Pioneer of origami in the West

By Alejandro Prieto

Montevideo, May 4 (efe-epa).- At a time when the Japanese art of paper folding was not popular in the West, a letter from a United States scholar reached a Buenos Aires librarian and sowed the seed of a pioneering origami artist.

Ligia Montoya, born in Buenos Aires to Spanish parents in 1920, first learnt how to create paper figures during a holiday with her cousin in the Mediterranean country, according to Laura Sofi who tells Montoya’s story in her book The Angel of Origami.

The author has just released a digital version of the publication and also directs and manages the Museum of Origami in Cologne (southwest Uruguay), the first of its kind in America and second in the West after the Zaragoza School-Museum of Origami (EMOZ).

Montoya was part of a group of people who in the mid-20th century began to think of folding paper as something that transcended simple craftsmanship, Sofi tells Efe in an interview.

“Paper as a flat sheet of paper has infinite possibilities and that was not being exploited, so with an artistic mind and mathematical knowledge these people began to look for other forms of representation, figurative and non-figurative,” Sofi adds.

Sofi’s book came about after investigations to create a detailed account of Montoya’s history.

Although she was not the only origami artist in Argentina, according to Sofi her originality set her apart.

“She had that characteristic that everyone admired her a lot, that’s why they called her the angel because she had that angel in her hands to do things that were sometimes almost impossible to repeat due to the delicacy that she put into her work.”

Sofi adds that although her pieces were not the most complicated often it is the simplest things that give the most work.

According to the director of the Uruguayan museum, Montoya had a very particular personality.

As a child, she preferred household chores to playing with other children.

Montoya returned to Buenos Aires in 1937 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and studied literature to become a librarian as a way of avoiding contact with others.

The artist spent long summers in Piriápolis (southeast Uruguay).

“Unfortunately we do not have photos or references of what she was doing but one can imagine that just as she was locked up in her room in Buenos Aires all day folding and sending letters, she did the same from here,” Sofi muses.

In 1951 Montoya was working as a librarian at a university in Buenos Aires when she received a very special letter.

The letter was from Gershon Legman, an American who wanted to learn more about origami in South America. Montoya replied to him at the request of her boss and began to correspond with several world leaders in origami.

At the time origami had quite a following, Sofi says. As well as in Japan, folding for children was promoted in Argentina and Spain under the Froebelian method, by German pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel.

“People who wrote letters at that time referred to Argentina as the place where the most paper folding was done and that is very interesting, there is a little flame that always remains,” the expert says.

Although a passion for the artform continued in Río de la Plata, for Sofi the 50s saw a “quantum leap” led by Akira Yoshizawa and Lillian Oppenheimer which catapulted the art of folding and marked a before and a later in its history.

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